After the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, the postponement of the 2020 Tour de France couldn’t have taken many people by surprise: it would have been very odd if a country which has banned daytime jogging because of Covid-19 had then green-lighted a competition which depends on participants moving in tighter formations than super-glued sardines. But if you’re among the many who are dismayed by the prospect of no international sport for the foreseeable future you may find some consolation in Australia’s performance in the global event which certain sectors of the media have been covering as if it were the Olympics; providing daily updates on each nation’s standing with death, infection and recovery numbers equating – albeit inversely – to gold, silver and bronze medal tallies. As far as I know, no journo has yet described Australia as ‘punching above its weight’ in the World Coronavirus Championships, but that may be because at time of writing it’s a cliché that doesn’t come close to describing how well we appear to be doing.
Much of the credit for that must go, of course, to the dedication and skills of our medics and hospital staff and once the war is officially declared over, it would be remiss of federal and state governments not to give some sort of public recognition to these brave men and women, much as they would fete a victorious returning Ashes or Origin side. In the meantime, the situation gives Scott Morrison a rare chance to emulate one of his own heroes. Prior to 1996, every attempt to control and reduce firearms ownership in Australia had been scuppered by shooters and their representatives. But the shockwaves from Port Arthur silenced that opposition long enough for John Howard to get bi-partisan support for what many consider his most enduring legacy. Since then, successive administrations have tried to make life difficult for the gun lobby’s more pernicious cousin, Big Tobacco. But despite all the anti-smoking ad campaigns, many Australians continue to puff themselves into an early grave. If they were the only people affected by this terrible habit, civil libertarians might be forgiven for defending it as a lifestyle choice. But even in normal times smokers are a major drain on health services and these are not normal times. Imagine that after testing positive for coronavirus you were admitted to hospital only to be told that the ICU bed you desperately needed was currently occupied by somebody with emphysema caused by a 2-pack-a-day habit. Or imagine being the doctor or nurse who has to stop treating someone dying of pneumonia caused by Covid-19 to attend to a life-long smoker who’s developed a set of completely unrelated respiratory problems. If the vast majority of Australians support the closure of businesses and schools and the suspension of social (not to mention sexual) intercourse, I cannot imagine the response to a temporary ban on the sale of a product which can only increase the workload of our hospitals would be anything but positive. The large proportion of smokers who have been struggling to quit would welcome such a ban, and once it was in place here I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before other Western governments followed suit – just as they have copied the more effective pandemic containment stratagems developed elsewhere. Imagine that as a legacy, Mr Morrison: being remembered as the man who stopped the world smoking.
It’s too soon to say with any certainty why Australian infection and mortality rates have remained so low compared with those of other countries. It’s probably also too soon to talk about there being any kind of silver lining to the national disaster we were still battling when the pandemic first appeared here. But the historically-low number of summer visitors we had thanks to those bushfires – especially Asian visitors – must have lowered our exposure to the pandemic in its emergent phase: that critical five- or six-week period when the Chinese government and its WHO lackeys were doing their best to keep it a secret.
It took Mao Zedong four years to kill an estimated 30 million of his own people. By extending his utter disregard for human life beyond China’s borders the man who has been hailed as the new Mao may equal that figure by Christmas.
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